It has perhaps taken a little longer than anticipated, but in naming Alan Stubbs as “head coach”, new Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster is convinced that with his arrival another integral piece of the jigsaw she envisages for the Easter Road club’s future has been put in place.
Stubbs is the second important recruit in that process, coming after the appointment of George Craig in the newly-created role of head of football operations.
While Stubbs takes charge of the first team and the not inconsiderable challenge of vying for promotion from a Scottish Championship which includes Capital rivals Hearts and Rangers with only the title winners guaranteed a return to top-flight football, Craig’s remit will be to ensure there is a clear pathway from the club’s academy set-up all the way through to the first team.
But while 42-year-old Stubbs’ title might differ under the new structure being put in place at Easter Road, Dempster describing it as a “continental-style model” designed for continued long-term success, he will, like all his predecessors, find himself addressed by the more familiar term of “gaffer” by the depleted squad he has inherited, one to which he will undoubtedly, and quickly, add fresh faces.
Having set out her masterplan for the future only a few days ago, one to be underpinned by a desire to develop a common style of play based on attractive attacking football at all levels from grassroots to the first team, it was vital Dempster identified the individual she believed not only shared that vision but was capable of delivering it.
In former Bolton, Celtic, Everton and Sunderland defender Stubbs she believes she has found that kindred spirit from a list of more than 40 applicants, describing him amid fierce competition as the “stand-out choice”.
Many will see it as something of a gamble in what is seen as a truly pivotal point in Hibs’ 139-year history, Stubbs having never enjoyed such a post before, but others will embrace the appointment as a brave choice, a change of direction and the fresh start after years of under-achievement which has led to the current disenchantment among the support.
Untried at this level Stubbs might be, but for those all too ready to look on the bleak side of life, perhaps the mention of Tony Mowbray might bring a touch of optimism. “Mogga” was very much in the same boat as Stubbs is now…untested and an unknown quantity as a manager, or in today’s parlance, “head coach”. But the pair do have one thing in common, a coaching background steeped in developing young players, Mowbray at Ipswich and Stubbs at Everton.
Stubbs has coached youth, then reserve teams at Goodison Park since 2008, helping England stars of the future Ross Barkley and John Stones through the club’s production line and impressing chairman Bill Kenwright enough to earn an interview before the Toffees turned to Roberto Martinez in the wake of David Moyes’ ill-fated departure to Manchester United.
Mowbray, of course, took over the helm at a time when the “golden generation” of Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor, Steven Whittaker and Steven Fletcher were just beginning to make names for themselves, their number augmented by the recruitment of youngsters from elsewhere such as David Murphy and Dean Shiels, not to mention the then unknown Guillaume Beuzelin.
Hibs today may not quite boast such an array of promising young talent but in Sam Stanton, Alex Harris, Jordon Forster, Danny Handling and Jason Cummings they do possess potential which, hopefully, can be nurtured with similar success, the long-term aim under the new structure being put in place – including a collaboration agreement with Spartans – being to identify, attract and develop youngsters from grassroots to the elite squad.
The future may be all very well, but as far as fans are concerned it’s the where and now which is of greater interest and while Stubbs may be stepping into the unknown to some extent he does, again like Mowbray, have the benefit of experience of Scottish football thanks to his years with Celtic.
During his time at Celtic Park, Stubbs was struck down by testicular cancer, a battle he won not just once but twice, his team-mates of the time recalling how that winning spirit was reflected on the park, the big Scouser regarded as something of a moaner but someone who didn’t like being beaten at anything, whether it happened to be a game of pool or darts.
It is that winning mentality, that strong-minded character shown both on and off the pitch which, they say, will shine through in the coming weeks and months.
Those attributes they believe, as does Dempster, will begin to heal the wounds and help draw the club and its supporters closer together once again. She describing herself as “thrilled” to have Stubbs on board for the coming season.
She said: “There were strong candidates who applied for the position but, after much consideration, Alan emerged as the stand-out character.
“It’s important the CEO and head coach are very much on the same page and that they forge a close working and trusting partnership. I spoke with Alan and it became apparent early in the discussions that we had a common goal.
“He is a driven, intelligent and strong-minded character, who has a very clear vision about what he wants to achieve in football – producing positive results, playing attractive football and developing young players.
“All those attributes fitted the criteria we required and we’re confident Alan is the right man to unite the club and bring success to Hibs.”